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Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Education, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

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The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Business, Culture, Fiction, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 16, 2014
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Mr. Stolyarov reviews the final installment in the “Atlas Shrugged” film trilogy.

Although Mr. Stolyarov favorably reviewed the first two installments, in his view the third film fails to do full justice to the culmination of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, where one would expect to witness the coalescence into an integrated worldview of all of the philosophical and plot pieces that Rand meticulously introduced during the first two parts. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is not without its merits, and it is inspiring in certain respects – especially in its conveyance of Rand’s passionate defense of the creator-individualist. However, the film is also not a great one, and the creators could have made Rand’s source material shine consistently instead of glowing dimly while occasionally emitting a bright flicker.

References

– “The Accomplishments of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part I’” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part II‘” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Strengths and Weaknesses of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part III’” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Business, Culture, Fiction, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 13, 2014
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In my reviews of Part I and Part II of the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy, I expressed largely favorable reactions to those films’ message and execution. Naturally, I was eager to see Part III and the completion of the long-awaited Atlas Shrugged trilogy. After I watched it, though, my response to this conclusion is more muted. The film fails to do full justice to the culmination of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, where one would expect to witness the coalescence into an integrated worldview of all of the philosophical and plot pieces that Rand meticulously introduced during the first two parts. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is not without its merits, and it is inspiring in certain respects – especially in its conveyance of Rand’s passionate defense of the creator-individualist. However, the film is also not a great one, and the creators could have made Rand’s source material shine consistently instead of glowing dimly while occasionally emitting a bright flicker.

Strength 1: There is now a complete film series spanning the entire story arc of Atlas Shrugged. What Ayn Rand herself and many successive filmmakers could not achieve, producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro have been able to bring into existence. For decades, admirers of Ayn Rand’s work have lamented that no Atlas Shrugged movie had been made. The fact that this particular lament is obsolete constitutes major progress for Objectivism (where the rate of progress is admittedly extremely slow).

Weakness 1: Part III is, in my view, the most poorly executed of the three Atlas Shrugged movies, even though it had the potential to be the best. The extreme brevity of Part III – a mere 90 minutes, compared to 102 minutes for Part I and 112 minutes for Part II – orphaned many of the events of the film from their contexts, as compared to the meticulous rationale for each of Ayn Rand’s decisions in the novel. John Galt’s speech – which received some 70 pages in the novel – had been cut to bare bones and lacks the deep, rigorous, philosophical exposition that Ayn Rand saw as the substance and culmination of the novel.

Strength 2: As was the case with the previous installments, the film’s creators conveyed a plausible sense that the events of Atlas Shrugged could happen in our own world, or at least in a world that greatly resembles ours, as opposed to the world of 1957. In this sense, the film’s creators succeeded in conveying the universality of Atlas Shrugged’s moral message.

Weakness 2: Changes in directors and the entire cast for every single one of the Atlas Shrugged films greatly detract from the continuity of the story, especially for viewers who may watch the films back to back, once all of them are available on DVDs or other media.

Strength 3: The reactions to Galt’s Speech by Ron Paul, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck added authenticity and relevance to the film and reinforced the message that the conflict between value-creators and “looters” (cronyists or purveyors of political pull) is very much present in our era. In addition, whether one agrees or disagrees with these notable figures, it was amusing to see them in a dramatization of Ayn Rand’s literary world.

Weakness 3: The film fails to do justice to many important plot elements in Part Three of the book. Hank Rearden – my favorite character from the book and the most compelling character in Part II – barely makes an appearance. Cheryl Taggart’s suicide is only expressed in retrospectives of her realizations that drove her to this desperate act – while she is not actually shown taking any steps toward it. The fate of Eddie Willers at the end of the film is almost completely unaddressed, with a mere intimation that the protagonists have another man in mind for whom they plan to stop – but no validation that this would indeed be Eddie Willers. The treatment of Eddie Willers in the novel is ambiguous; Ayn Rand leaves him beside a broken-down Taggart Transcontinental train engine, abandoned by the railroad workers. He might be rescued, or he might perish – but he has not yet been invited into Galt’s Gulch. The film creators neither pose the ambiguity nor attempt to resolve it. For me, the fate of Eddie Willers – a sincere, moral, hard-working man who respects the achievements of heroic individualists but is not (according to Rand) one of them – is a key concern in Atlas Shrugged. I think Rand treated him with undeserving harshness, considering that people like Eddie Willers, especially if there are millions of them, can be tremendous contributors to human flourishing. The film creators missed an opportunity to vindicate Eddie and give him some more serious hope of finding a place in the new world created by the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch. In Galt’s Gulch, the film shows Dagny explaining her plan to have a short railroad built to service Francisco d’Anconia’s new copper mine. But who would actually physically build the railroad and do the job well, if not people like Eddie Willers?

Strength 4: The film’s narrator does a decent job at bridging the events of the previous two installments and the plot of Part III. The events in the film begin with Dagny Taggart crash-landing in Galt’s Gulch, and even those who did not read the book or watch the preceding two films would be able to follow how and why she got there. The film is also excellent in displaying the corruption, incompetence, spitefulness, and callous scheming of the crony corporatist establishment that Rand despised – and that we should despise today. The smoky back-room scene where the economic planners toast to the destruction of Minnesota is one of the film’s high marks – a memorable illustration of what the mentality of “sacrificing the parts” for the whole actually looks like.

Weakness 4: While moderately effective at conveying narratives of events and generally decent in its treatment of ethics and politics, the film does not do justice to the ideas on metaphysics and epistemology also featured prominently in Atlas Shrugged. Furthermore, the previous two films were generally superior in regard to showing, in addition to telling, the fruits of the creative efforts of rational individualists, as well as the consequences for a society that shackles these creators. In the Part III film, many of the scenes utilized to illustrate these effects seemed more peripheral than central to the book’s message. Much of the footage hinted at the national and world events that take place in the book, but did not explicitly show them.

Amid these strengths and weaknesses remains an opportunity to continue the discussion about the undoubtedly crucial implications of Ayn Rand’s message to today’s political and societal climate – where there looms the question of how much longer the creator-individualists who power the motor of the world can keep moving forward in spite of the increasingly gargantuan obstacles placed in their way by legacy institutions. Any work that can pose these questions for consideration by wider numbers of people is welcome in an environment where far too many are distracted by the “bread and circuses” of mindless entertainment. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is a film with intellectual substance and relevance and so is worthy of a relatively short time commitment from anyone interested in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, philosophy, and current events. However, those who watch the film should also be sure to read the novel, if they have not already done so, in order to experience much greater depth of both plot and philosophical ideas.

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Review of “The Transhumanist Wager” by Zoltan Istvan – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

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Categories: Fiction, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
August 20, 2014
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The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

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This is the best novel I’ve read in over 30 years! I don’t ever expect to see its like again. Fascinating, amazing, and shocking to the point of numbness.

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It’s rather comparable to Atlas Shrugged — the earth-shaking epic and classic by Ayn Rand from 1957. It has Atlas Shrugged’s magisterial story sweep and stunning philosophical ambition. It has Rand’s quasi-god-like heroism too. And like the other novel, Zoltan Istvan’s book is looking to mercilessly conquer the world.

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Let’s hope!

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Mr. Istvan’s thunderous 300-page saga, The Transhumanist Wager, is a truly remarkable novel of ideas. It’s unique. It has no peers or rivals. And it’s completely unexpected and unprecedented.

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Like Atlas Shrugged, it offers many formidable intellectual challenges. One or two of these I’ve yet to work out. Like Rand’s lengthy magnum opus, The Transhumanist Wager is mesmerizingly philosophically bold and rich. And like Atlas, it’s rather repetitive in introducing these dynamic, new ideas to a silently dumbfounded world. But at least you clearly know where each novelist-philosopher stands on the issues, and what controversial and ferocious thing they each have to teach us.

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I find this to be an unapologetically extreme and revolutionary book. A true tour de force and deep-thinking book which comes at all of us from out of the blue. If you don’t read it, you’re fatuously and tragically missing out. Wager is a historical game-changer, and likely to spark a new era in mankind’s evolution. Humans will never be the same.

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It seems a shame and crime to give away virtually anything in the plot, so I’ll keep it very light. The hero of the story seeks a truly astounding level of personal growth and, simultaneously, human evolutionary ascent. He effectively threatens to dethrone Zeus himself. Whether Jethro Knights — the alter ego of Zoltan Istvan – actually achieves this is something the high-intelligence, high-virtue reader will have to find out for himself.

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This book is jaw-droppingly ambitious and powerful. It’s also massively persuasive. The novel is filled with energy, zealotry, ferocity, honesty, courage, and heedless impetuosity. A visionary and fundamentalist book of gigantic and fearless integrity which is almost utterly loyal to its own monumental and yet somewhat narrow beliefs. But make no mistake: these ideas and beliefs are world-rocking.

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Ultimately, Mr. Istvan is a slightly but significantly limited philosopher. He’s not an Objectivist, and isn’t that familiar with Ayn Rand’s intellectual beliefs and theories, evidently. Still, I consider Zoltan Istvan to be an immensely powerful neoliberal thinker and a formidable cultural warrior. He fights for the Good Guys; and he aims to capture a great deal of the future. Amazingly, Mr. Istvan may have come to these ultra-high-level theories and points of view without having had much help from today’s leading neoliberals: the economic Austrians, the political libertarians, and the philosophical Objectivists. Maybe Zoltan Istvan just used his own exceptionally high virtue and Herculean fearlessness to derive his “transhumanist” philosophy from the classics of human literature and intellectualism, especially the Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, and Enlightenment thinkers. Astonishing, if true!

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And yet…Mr. Istvan isn’t that strong a neoliberal. He, his hero, and this novel don’t entirely believe in the epistemology of reason, the ethics of individualism, and the politics of liberty.

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Still, what a dynamo and hero this Zoltan character is! What a vivacious, ferocious, and catastrophic cultural warrior! Mr. Istvan is a one-man wrecking crew of contemporary culture and evidently a magnificent being of immense and singular stature. Or at least his alter ego in the story is.

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Altho’ the ideas inside somewhat overwhelm it, The Transhumanist Wager is a genuine novel which tells a dramatic, wonderous, and wide-ranging tale. The plot is exciting, involving, and enthralling. The characters are generally believable, often archetypal, and sometimes indelible. This is a heroic epic which transverses the entire planet and overwhelmingly impacts all of mankind.

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I also found this book to be a hugely enjoyable, winding, and suspenseful yarn. It’s great fun to read, and even more fun to think about.

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Overall I consider Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager to be outstanding as a novel, and even better as a book of theoretical and practical philosophy, regarding the shooting-star ascent of man, and our soon-to-be superhuman future.

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Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  (http://www.liberalinstitute.com/) and a writer for Rebirth of Reason (http://www.rebirthofreason.com). He can be contacted at zantonavitch@gmail.com.

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Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Business, Culture, Fiction, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 13, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Atlas Shrugged: Part II is a worthy successor to last year’s Part I, and I am hopeful for its commercial success so that John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow will be able to release a full trilogy and achieve the decades-long dream of bringing the entire story of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to the movie screen. The film is enjoyable and well-paced, and it highlights important lessons for the discerning viewer. The film’s release in the month preceding the US Presidential elections, however, may give some the wrong impression: that either of the two major parties can offer anything close to a Randian alternative to the status quo. Those viewers who are also thinkers, however, will see that the film’s logical implication is that both of these false “alternatives” – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – should be rejected decisively.

While the cast has been replaced entirely, I find the acting to have been an improvement over Part I, with the actors portraying their respective characters with more believability and emotional engagement. Samantha Mathis, in the role of Dagny Taggart, showed clearly the distress of a competent woman who is ultimately unable to keep the world from falling apart. Esai Morales aptly portrayed Francisco d’Anconia’s passion for ideas and his charisma. Jason Beghe also performed well as Hank Rearden – the embattled man of integrity struggling to hold on to his business and creations to the last.

The film emphasizes strongly the distinction between earned success – success through merit and creation – and “success” gained by means of pull. The scene in which two trains collide in the Taggart Tunnel is particularly illustrative in this respect. Kip Chalmers, the politician on his way to a pro-nationalization stump speech, attempts to get the train moving through angry phone calls to “the right people,” thinking that all will be well if he just pulls the proper strings. But the laws of reality – of physics, chemistry, and economics – are unyielding to the mere say-so of the powerful, and the mystique of pull collapses on top of the passengers.

As the world falls apart, the film depicts protesters demanding their “fair share,” holding up signs reminiscent of the “Occupy” movement of 2011 – “We are the 99.98%” is a clear allusion. Yet once the draconian Directive 10-289 is implemented, the protests turn in the other direction, away from the freedom-stifling, creativity-crushing regimentation. Perhaps the protesters are not the same people as those who called for their “fair share”  – but the film suggests that the people should be careful about the policies they ask for at the ballot box, lest they be sorely disappointed upon getting them. This caution should apply especially to those who think that Barack Obama’s administration parallels the falling-apart of the world in Atlas Shrugged – and that Mitt Romney’s election would somehow “save” America. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If there is any character in Atlas Shrugged who most resembles Mitt Romney, it is not John Galt. Rather, it is James Taggart – the businessman of pull – the sleek charlatan who will take any position, support any policy, speak any lines in order to advance his influence and power. Patrick Fabian conveyed the essence of James Taggart well – a man who succeeds based on image and not on substance, a man who has a certain polished charisma and an ability to pull the strings of politics – for a while. James Taggart is the essence of the corporatist businessman, a creature who thrives on special political privileges and barriers to entry placed in front of more capable competitors. He can buy elections and political offices – and he can, for a while, delude people by creating a magic pseudo-reality with his words. But words cannot suspend the laws of logic or economics. Ultimately the forces of intellectual and moral decay unleashed by corporatist maneuvering inexorably push the world into a condition that even the purveyors of pull would have preferred to avoid. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, the consequences of economic interventionism are often undesirable even from the standpoint of those who advocated the interventions in the first place. James Taggart is ultimately pushed into accepting Directive 10-289, though his initial plans were much more modest – mostly, a desire to hang onto leadership in the railroad business despite his obvious lack of qualifications for the position. Mitt Romney, by advocating James Taggart’s exact sort of crony corporatism, may well usher in a similar overarching totalitarianism – not because he supports it now (in the sense that Mitt Romney can be said to support anything), but because totalitarianism will be the logical outcome of his policies.

Because, in some respects, Ayn Rand wrote during a gentler time with respect to civil liberties, and the film endeavors to consistently reflect Rand’s emphasis on economic regimentation, there is little focus on the kinds of draconian civil-liberties violations that Americans face today. The real-world version of Directive 10-289 is not a single innovation-stopping decree, but an agglomeration of routine humiliations and outright exercises of violence. The groping and virtual strip-searching by the Transportation Security Administration, the War on Drugs and its accompanying no-knock raids, the paranoid surveillance apparatus of large-scale wiretaps and data interception, and the looming threat of controls over the Internet and indefinite detention without charge – these perils are as damaging as an overarching economic central plan, and they are with us today. While not even the most socialistic or fascistic politicians today would issue a ban on all new technology or a comprehensive freeze of prices and wages, they certainly can and will try to humiliate and physically threaten millions of completely peaceful, innocent Americans who try to innovate and earn an honest living. Obama’s administration has engaged in this sort of mass demoralization ever since the foiled “underwear” bomb plot during Christmas 2009 – but Romney would do more of the same, and perhaps worse. Unlike Obama, who must contend with the pro-civil-liberties wing of his constituency, Romney’s attempts to violate personal freedoms will only be cheered on by the militaristic, jingoistic, security-obsessed faction that is increasingly coming to control the discourse of the Republican Party. There can be no hope for freedom, or for the dignity of an ordinary traveler, employee, or thinker, if Romney is elected.

I encourage the viewers of the film to seriously consider the question, “Who is John Galt?” He is not a Republican. If any man comes close, it is Gary Johnson, a principled libertarian who has shown in practice (not just in rhetoric) his ability and willingness to cut wasteful interventions, balance budgets, and protect civil liberties during two terms as Governor of New Mexico. He staunchly champions personal freedoms, tax reduction, foreign-policy non-interventionism, and a sound currency free of the Federal Reserve system. Gary Johnson was, in fact, a businessman of the Randian ethos – who started as a door-to-door handyman and grew from scratch an enterprise with revenues of $38 million.  And, on top of it all, he is a triathlete and ultramarathon runner who climbed Mount Everest in 2003 – clearly demonstrating a degree of ambition, drive, and pride in achievement worthy of a hero of Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand never meant the strike in Atlas Shrugged to be an actual recommendation for how to address the world’s problems. Rather, the strike was an illustration of what would happen if the world was deprived of its best and brightest – the creators and innovators who, despite all obstacles, pursue the path of merit and achievement rather than pull and artificial privilege. Today, it is necessary for each of us to work to keep the motor of the world going by not allowing the purveyors of pull to gain any additional ground. Voting for Mitt Romney will do just the opposite – as Atlas Shrugged: Part II artfully suggests to the discerning viewer.